From the author of Filaria, The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter, and Head Full of Mountains comes Brent Hayward’s debut short story collection, featuring ten stories spanning his career, plus two new, previously unpublished pieces, the novelette Lake of Dreams and the titular novella.
In Broken Sun, Broken Moon, the storm has passed but gravity is weak again. The scribe isn’t feeling well. Houses in palmetto break apart and float away. Mechanisms behind the sun and the moon are breaking down. And now government men sail into town, from the capital, bringing with them a newborn perfectthe first in years. They’re looking for the scribe, and they’re not very happy.
In Lake of Dreams, George Triplehorn was passed over by rapture when it swept the planet. Dead people either stayed that way or got fed up with conditions and moved to the moon. Like the others left behind, George tried to muddle by, making a living with his new skills as an entertainer, but things just weren’t the same. When Myron, his agent, doctor, and sometimes shrink, lands him a gig in Lake of Dreams, the largest lunar necropolis, George figures it might just be the ticket to boost a flagging career and maybe even get his life back on track. But he’s never been to the moon before, his so-called skills are acting up, and he soon discovers that the dead are not his greatest fans.
This collection, like Brent Hayward’s other works, breaks the boundaries of literary science fiction.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.56(d)|
About the Author
Brent Hayward was born in London, England, grew up in Montreal, and currently lives with his family in Toronto. He is the author of three acclaimed novels, Filaria, The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter, and Head Full of Mountains, all available from CZP. His short fiction has appeared in various publications. By day, he works in the aerospace field. He can be reached through his website, brenthayward.com.
Read an Excerpt
ARC OF A COMPLEX SPIKE
by Brent Hayward
Certain that clouds would soon appear, and taking advantage of an unusually profound sense of self-satisfaction, Leon decided to fly a mere cursory reconnaissance of his area before settling down to bask in the northwest quadrant fully-exposed Glade-C with collectors outstretched and other functions virtually dormant. The morning sun was hot and direct. At times, as he shifted lazily to better catch the rays, his black solar panels clicked softly and reflected scales of light about the glade like brilliant semaphores.
He stored energy for a rainy day.
Sure, Leon’s jurisdiction had its share of problems. What part of the forest didn’t? Overall, though, the picture was healthy. Minor indications of blight on some elms, and the discovery of an as-yet-unidentified species of voracious larvae gnawing at the leaves of new growth in the oleander garden, but no grave, stressful concerns.
This morning offered a golden opportunity to bask, to shut down, to reboot refreshed, with all cells
There had been a fire.
Startling graphic files downloaded suddenly into his memory; he staggered as they opened.
Burnt remains. Today! Within his jurisdiction.
The sudden arrival of this information had stunned Leon, collectors frozen, half-collapsed. How could he have encountered such a calamity without alarms being triggered? And how could he be here, oblivious, in Glade-C, attempting to relax?
Shuddering to let his collectors settle fanlike onto his back, Leon rose to his full height. Of course he knew the ordinances of his job: prune, excise, mulch diseased specimens. Water, fertilize, fly recon. And only you can prevent forest fires. That was number one.
The rogue folder, without parents or children, was an orphaned series whose origins grew more mysterious the harder Leon tried to trace them. Where had the information come from? How had it materialized, suddenly, in his temp? And how had it been hidden?
Reviewing his back-ups, he understood this much:
Moments before dawn. Coming in low over Ridge-D, mists curling up from the pine-needle floor, Leon spraying firs with a light 20/10/20 mix as he went. All logged and documented in a well-organized, parented chain of files. As data should be. Banking around a stand of blue conifer and there it was: filaments of smoke coiling against a sky almost the same color
His alarms had ramped up, reaching the first stage of readiness. He had been on full alert.
Broken, charred wood twigs, bark, punk all taken illicitly from his trees. Unnaturally arranged. Still smoldering. Scent of smoke. Crushed grass, all around.
Circling lower, in disbelief, input rushing to his processors, being stored, sequenced, his adrenaline spiking, hoses sliding into position
Then he was landing. Certain that clouds would soon appear. Feeling a profound sense of self-satisfaction. But not among the blue conifers. Not near the fire. Coming down, instead, here, in Glade-C, smug, eager to rest, to charge his cells, all data about the fire vanished, all data about what had happened after he had seen it somehow still misfiled or erased altogether.
Was the fire still burning?
Where had his memories gone?
Not only were things terribly awry in his jurisdiction but also, it would seem, within the parameters of his own operating system.
Gauging the light breeze that had sprung up, Leon took a bit of a run across the glade and spread his wings. By the time he reached the crowns of the maples, his legs were gathered in, held tight against his chest, and he had attained maximum airspeed.
Flames had only partially consumed the matter. Lengths of branches, hacked and broken from living trees, leaned against each other to form a rough cone. Moss and kindling packed the base. Thankfully, the fire itself was out now; water had been used to douse the flames before consumption of the wood was complete, before much damage could be done to the surrounding area. Leon had not put the fire out. The trajectory of the water used to extinguish the conflagration had been random, uneven. Cause of initial ignition was neither lightning strike nor meteor impact. Certainly, Leon had not lit it: no burns were scheduled in this part of the forest and no burns were ever scheduled in the spring.
Smoke could no longer be detected.
Perched on a branch, Leon studied the remains for some time before swooping, soundlessly, down.
He landed in underbrush, a good ten meters from the firepit
Firepit. His lexicon had supplied him with that word a new one but before he had a chance to understand its etymology, a second cascade of files downloaded, en masse, so many this time they seized his memory capacity and he crashed:
When the sheet fell he saw that the canvas was huge, almost as big as the entire studio wall, taking up greater space than his field of vision. He stepped back and still could not take in the whole painting. Indigo tints floated against similar, darker blues. Tinged, in one corner, with russet, like far-off embers burning, at night. Shapes still darker than the background seemed to shift at an impossible, remote distance.
-Would you even tell me if you liked it? You’re not reacting. I can see it in your face. You don’t like it?
Her hand at his back, fingers poised, tense, as if ready to propel him forward, perhaps into the painting itself should he not answer appropriately. But what could he tell her? That looking at her work brought emotions he could not contend with into his throat? That he was reminded of a similar, malignant shape, in an x-ray, and that looking at her picture tore his heart out and flayed him alive?
He turned to her, utterly at a loss.
-It’s called Pendulum and Firepit, she said. I know that’s a dumb title.
To which he agreed, though he could still say nothing.
Leon lay flat on his starboard side. Right legs folded under his chassis, right wing outstretched. He checked the membranes for any tears and then folded the wing. Beyond professional embarrassment and a growing concern for his programming and interface integrity, he felt a lingering sense of malaise he could not identify.
Above him, the sky remained blue, but now those clouds were coming in.
He stood, and saw that he straddled the firepit. Idiotically, he had flattened evidence with his body. This realization was catalyst for a surge of something very close to panic, which he fought, trying to remain calm, to detect reasons for his malfunctioning in a logical manner. He filled his lungs. Emptied them. Felt marginally better.
Electrostatically, he cleansed himself, and organized, piecemeal, as best he could, all remaining data from his unusual morning. The most recent series of files were already fragmenting; too foreign for him to assimilate and back-up properly, for they had not concerned trees or anything about the forest. He had no context in which to process or store them. All he knew was that, when his ram had seized, he had gone somewhere else. Had ceased being Leon, forest caretaker, jurisdiction 742.
And, when awareness returned, he lay, like an oaf, on top of a valuable source of clues.
His lexicon supplied more new words: Gorgeous; Chiaroscuro; Lustrous. Threw them up into his vision, glowing red letters that rose and reached the top of their parabola and dropped back through him like fertilizer falling through the air. No meanings attached, no context. Just words.
Diagnostics found that his body and operating systems despite the throbbing sensation in his head (which spread, in surges, now, down through his neck) to be functional: wiring; hydraulics, intact; ditto his armature; solar collectors; wings. Tools of his trade were lubed, efficient, and sharpened. Theta activity normal, energy at full, fertilizer reservoirs brimming.
With an anterior manipulator Leon gently picked up a half-charred fragment from the remains of the firepit. He turned it over, scrutinized it, took enough graphics to reconstitute a virtual replica, and then popped the charcoal into his mouth. Carbon, mostly. Carbon, but also a few cells. Tiny scraps of a mammalian biology, singed, clinging to the rough surface of burnt bark. Crunching with his strong jaws, Leon injected mild acids into the pulp.
As he waited for the analysis as the coal and other fibers broke down in the enzymes of his saliva he walked around the firepit, examining broken blades of grass and crushed moss. Indentations, where some creature or creatures had paused to rest. Here, low branches formed an arbor. Delicate twigs had been snapped. A considerable bulk had passed this way
The results downloaded, erratic, hard to read. Leon was trying to scrutinize the corrupt data when, for the third time that morning, vast amounts of hidden files surged onto his main drive, instantly shutting down his already compromised systems:
The sip of green tea reacted with the spices in his mouth. He swished the tea around with his tongue and swallowed. Against his hands, the glazed, ornate bowl was warm. Tiny blue and white figures poled gondolas past bonsais and weed-choked shores: timeless figures; immortal. There was only vermicelli left, growing cold in the fish sauce. Beef gone, broccoli gone, snow peas gone. All goodness gone.
-You’ve been staring out the goddamn window for ten minutes now. You wanted to tell me something and all you do is stare.
Yet emotion cracked her voice. In a perverse way, he appreciated it, even liked it, because deep inside he thought everybody should stop what they were doing and shed tears for him, even people unknown to him. Kids, sitting at the restaurant; women at other tables with whom he might have, in other circumstances, fallen in love.
Putting his hand inside his coat he felt the pamphlet there, its paper soft with reading and re-reading and from the sweat of his own hands.
-Jesus Christ, she said, I’m trying to be patient. I already know you’re dying and I’m sitting here waiting. I’m sitting here with you. What else could you possibly want to tell me? Did you think, because you were sick, it might change things between us? Would you like it if my reason to come back to you was sympathy? So I could hold your hand while you died and cry at your funeral?
These other people were looking, the children and women. The waiter. He disliked being the center of attention, yet he wanted everyone to know about his illness and weep for him? Perhaps she was right about him being messed up. -You don’t even know how to begin dealing with this, she’d said to him. -You don’t even know where to start.
Clearly it had been a bad idea to try, in public, and tell her about the final arrangement he’d made. Maybe it was a bad idea to tell her at all.
Face down, once more, in soft needles. Another series of unparented files fading. An illusion. How strange it had been, to hear those odd sounds, to see through those eyes, to feel those odd, complex emotions. To his ruptured lexicon appeared additions: Savour; Nutmeg; Ambrosia. None was given context or definition.
He was breaking apart. There was no denying that now. A major malfunction.
Leon pushed himself up. All recent data, including that which he had just asked for feedback on the cells he’d found clinging to the wood were deleted now. A mere ghost, a tiny text file, remained flickering in his temp. Something about a… a bowl? A bowl he held in strange manipulators?
The only bowls he knew were shallow vales between the grassy hillocks of Glade-G.
The ghost file vanished.
He stood, inert, for a long time, functions dormant. Then he shook himself, tried his best to become alert, and started to track the passage of whatever creature had preceded him through these pine trees, some hours before. Branches were broken, sedges pushed aside. Prints had been left. He inspected these odd-shaped depressions in the humus, where weights of between sixty and sixty-five kilos had pressed down. Regular intervals. Patterns suggesting bi-pedal gaits. Two creatures.
As he moved, the throb in Leon’s head and neck spread. He staggered, at one point, into a web of branches, and leaned there, against them, until his own six legs responded once more to the commands being sent. A breeze lifted the leaves, made them wink at him, and carried scents that triggered more data to download abruptly from his olfactory pit receptors.
This time he was almost ready:
Smell of sex from under the duvet, a smell he thought would never fill his lungs again. She slept, breathing lightly, on her side. Angry still, in sleep, but perhaps anger was not exactly an accurate term to describe what she felt. He understood parts of her reaction now: he was meant to always be there for her, a touchstone, an anchor, even when they weren’t dating. And she was going to lose that.
He had told her about his decision to register at Think-a-Head, gave her the pamphlet, explained a few things about cryogenics, but she just looked at the paper and then back up at him and said he was an idiot. -You think they’ll find a cure one day, like in a month from now? Or maybe after everyone you know is long gone? Or do you think your brain is invaluable, mankind’s gift for the future? Those charlatans will probably sell your fucking bits and pieces on the black market or just take your money and toss your body in a dumpster. I mean, is this even legal? And what kind of name is Think-a-Head?
At this stage, she seemed tired more than anything else, even as she scolded him. All she had left in her was a set of rote lines, clever and effective but delivered without conviction. The expression on her face had been resigned when she’d given him back the pamphlet.
Later, though, at her place, the sex had been great and a total surprise. She had initiated it. She always did when they were going out, but this time it took him a while to respond. Since the diagnosis, he had felt that his body was rotting inside, diseased, not very sexy. Stupid for him to think that what was happening to his insides could be passed on to her by screwing, or even kissing, but that idea haunted him.
Lying in the dark, listening to her sleep, he felt alive once more.
When he had come, he was on top of her, leaning on his arms, and he opened his eyes to see her smiling up at him.
-Finally, she said, the old you.
-Likewise, he answered quietly. Likewise.
And kissed her on the mouth.
Because he had anticipated the crash, Leon rebooted in a braced position, still on his feet. This time, he tried immediately to retain the illusive files, back them up, view them and organize them, try to understand them, but they fragmented, dangerously corrupted, and in the end were deleted by his anti-viral.
The throbbing in his head had become a pounding now, darting down his neck and across his shoulders, where his wings and collectors sprouted.
Glucose levels were way down. This condition would explain why his operating systems were faltering. Why had diagnostics not picked up on this problem before? How long had his levels been dropping, undetected? If they continued to fall at this rate, he would soon become totally incapacitated, in an update cycle, lexicon supplying an endless stream of gibberish.
But, for now, at least, he could still move slowly, quietly.
Ahead, faint sounds. In his crippled state, it was painstaking to transcribe these dim noises into his translator. Discomfort was great, yet, in a way, focusing on a task helped him remain quasi-functioning:
-Keep it down. Rest.
-Just light another fire, right now. Get this over with.
-I want to make sure the gun’s charged. We’re not ready for that thing to come back. First thing in the morning. Get some rest.
-I said I was cold, not tired.
-Listen, if we attract it again, I’m putting it out. In one shot. I’m doing the shooting.
-You’re not convinced I hit it?
-If you say you did, you probably did.
-Shit. I hit the thing. Believe me. I had the goggles on, remember. I was the one with the gun. I saw the spike discharge and I heard the pulse hit it.
A guitar strummed, two chords, G and C. Diminishing from his speakers. The hiss of a lightly brushed hi-hat. A drink in an old fashioned glass, smooth shapes of ice clinking as the glass is set down on a wooden table. The ticking of his watch, when he held it close to his ear, in the dark.
-didn’t shut it down. If you winged it then who knows what it’s doing out there. The complex spike would try bring every memory alive at once. So maybe it’s remembering all kinds of stuff. Maybe it’s gone berserk. There’s a brain somewhere in that thing, you know.
-Don’t lecture me. Of course I know.
-The wet drive alone is worth a fortune. Armature is priceless. Nobody even knows what that metal is any more. We’ll eat like kings for a year. We’ll go off side to live forever. Now let’s find it.
The hiss of the wheelchair’s tires along Think-a-Head’s halls. Really, quite a rinky-dink operation. Like she said. The wheelchair is for dramatics. The hall is short. In this room, at the end, here’s the Doctor, smiling. Looks about twenty, slick and tanned. More like a porn star than anyone with legitimate credentials. It’s a good thing she’s not here to see this. It’s a good thing, in the end, she wasn’t able to say goodbye.
Night. Bright moon, clear sky. Leon could discern, just ahead, the mild heatshapes of two large, warm-blooded creatures. Mammals. Sleeping. These things were people. His heritage. Part of him understood that now, though he had no hard evidence to support the knowledge, no remaining infrastructure left to consult.
These are people.
Was he once like them? Was this a second chance to be human again? Only tactile memory was left to sample. Touch would complete the doppelganger of senses he was rebuilding. Touch would make him a person again.
He moved silently. He was the wind.
About to caress the recumbent forms, a doubt froze Leon. What if this was all part of some trick? Hadn’t these dangerous mammals caused the breakdown in his systems, initiated this discomfort and confusion? Why on Earth would he want to be human once more?
Manipulators hovering over the warm flesh, he thought: and what if these manifestations, these things called people, are symptoms of some new, malignant gall, a cancer that has insinuated itself into my jurisdiction? As he considered this most distressing possibility, his pruning knives, unbidden, edged forward in their sheaths, gleaming in the light of the full moon.
Table of Contents
Broken Sun, Broken Moon
Arc of a Complex Spike
The Carpet Maker
The Brief Medical Career of Fine Sam Fine
Out On the Photon Highway
The New Father
Lake of Dreams
Phallex Comes Out